Speech before Apptitude and Abogadong Pinoy

Over the past year, we often hear that in the midst of the crises we face, we must seize every opportunity that comes our way. Between you and me, our present reality goes beyond that: crises present not just opportunities but critical junctures through which societies change.

We are fortunate that just within our reach is an arsenal that can transform societies in ways unimaginable. I speak of information technology –one of our anchors for stability in these otherwise uncertain times. It has become more than a tool for progress; it has transformed into a defining force for virtually all societies to survive.

I am glad to speak before all of you for this same agenda: we must harness technology and innovation to adapt to the change of our time.

As members of the legal profession, harnessing digital tools must carry out the ability to serve justice with efficiency, accountability, and transparency while making it more accessible to all, hopefully, at a lower cost. This is a welcome change for our courts that is founded on guaranteeing swift and fair administration of justice.

I know this with certitude: our government must take the same pace towards prioritizing ICT and digitization.

Hence, as I find it fitting to your event, I will discuss our legislative agenda on digital transformation initiatives that are either driving or being driven by government policies.

Let me start by saying that we are making headway into meaningful digital transformation. In fact, the legislative measures that we had worked very hard for to modernize our public service and improve our digital-related competencies are already rolling out.

I am speaking of three meaningful legislative outputs: The passage of the Philippine Identification System, the roll-out of the digital connectivity program, and the expansion of our science, technology, and innovation (STI) initiatives.

We can only imagine: Without the National ID, we would still have 33 different identification cards issued by various government agencies. These result in unnecessary and costly redundancies on transactions not only in government but also in businesses. This is the reason why, since my first term in the Senate in 2001, I have pushed for the enactment of a national ID system which culminated with the passage of RA No. 11055 or the Philippine Identification System Act that I authored and sponsored. Finally, we have a national ID system that will provide “good identity” to all, a means for social, financial, and political inclusion — a fundamental right of every citizen.

Of equal weight and relevance, we also take actions to bridge our growing digital divide.

As the former sponsor of the budget of the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT), I stood my ground for the digital connectivity program.

This encompasses the National Broadband Program, the Free WiFi in Public Places Program, and the Technology Empowerment for Education, Employment, Entrepreneurs, and Economic Development (Tech4ED) project, which is a shared facility providing access to ICT-enabled services and relevant content.

I am certain that if we accelerate the deployment of the needed digital infrastructure, we can better serve the government, industries, and the public.

This also goes the same way with the various science and technology programs of the DOST. As a part of my institutional amendments to our national budgets from 2017 to 2021, my proposal to augment the appropriations of the DOST amounted to a sum of P7.827 billion primarily for R&D and Grants-in-Aid programs. These efforts are in response to the glaring dearth of resources allocated to Research and Development, averaging annually at a mere 0.4% of our national budgets from 2018 to 2021.

With these efforts, among other vigorous STI outputs of the government, I am confident we will deliver more economical, responsive, technology-driven, and sustainable services for all — especially for our justice system.

Nonetheless, I would be remiss if I do not tell you that much remains to be done to sustain our momentum. It is a fact that as the government digitizes, courts go paperless, and lawyers adopt sophisticated technologies, so do the ever-evolving tools, nature, and means of criminal acts, and transgressions of the laws.

As I have come to see it, we are running against time. Our laws should be adaptive and responsive to the increasingly advancing technological changes.

Hence, among my priority bills are the amendments of the 51-year-old Anti-Wiretapping Law and the Bank Secrecy Law.

Needless to say, the buck does not stop with the government. We need your help to create an effective public sector and be drivers for digital transformation. This is a reform agenda that the government and the private sector should marshal on.

From our end, we support the Supreme Court’s efforts to bolster its performance. Testament to this was my individual amendment to increase the appropriations of the Supreme Court, specifically, by augmenting P20 million for the allocation of the operations for the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education’s Training Expenses in 2019.

I believe that continuous education will improve not only the competence but also the judicial values of our lawyers.

Similarly, your efforts for the adoption of e-justice technologies will depend on how they affect those values.

Abogadong Pinoy (AP), an organized community of lawyers with roots in social media, and Apptitude Info Tech Solutions, Inc. (Apptitude) as an education tech startup, are key drivers to this transformative agenda. Hence, I enjoin you to ensure that the e-justice technologies we adopt impact the accessibility, legitimacy, legality and economy of our judicial system.

With that in mind, I am confident that we are ready to turn the corner and make a big leap for the improved institutional capacity of our justice system.

As in the words of H.G Wells, “we either adapt or perish”. Let it be our personal advocacy to push and adopt to change for one collective agenda: to serve the public interest and for the common good.

Thank you and may you have a meaningful undertaking.